GPS guidance and the smaller grower

As published in Grower November 2010

“We’re not buying GPS, it’s a — waste of money” said Gordon Sue to his sons Nigel and Travis on their family farm in Levin last year.  After the debate, they put their first high accuracy GPS and auto steering into one of their tractors.   It is paying off with better use of time, money and land.

Agreeing to buy the GPS was a challenge, but the fast payback and gains in efficiency have them all convinced.  Their vegetable crops look neat and even.  Using the same lines each year, they can decide how many rows of each crop to plant and set the GPS accordingly.  This saves time, and removes the need to repeatedly measure to make things fit.    “Everything is planted parallel and correctly spaced, and that means more rows, and more crop in the ground,” says Travis.

The straight rows from GPS look great from the road, but it is the cost savings as well as more effective use of land which make the investment a good one.    “With GPS we get things done in less time and with less labour and fuel.  We will buy another unit ,” says Nigel.

The same lines are used for nearly all operations, and the soil is benefiting from less traffic.  This means that some of the fuel savings and soil improvements from controlled traffic farming (CTF) are being banked, even though this wasn’t planned.

CTF works because the GPS guided tractor follows the same wheel tracks accurately -pass to pass.  As a result, the wheels run on a better track, and less of the paddock ends up compacted.  Less fuel is required to cultivate a CTF field.  And plants grow better in the less compacted soils too.

GPS also guides the tractor for cultivation for weed control.  RTK GPS is accurate to within 2 centimetres which means that the 6 metre cultivator can be used with confidence.  The planted rows are dead straight and the GPS guides the tractor and implement accurately along the parallel rows, without damage to the crop.

Attempting to drive straight lines was once a tiring job, because of the concentration needed.  Now Gordon uses the GPS every fine day.   The tractor drives itself bullet straight with no hands, every time.   “It makes life easier, we should have had GPS years ago,” he says.

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